BY ADEOLA ADENUGA
In times past, when the word billionaire was mentioned, the image that sprang to mind was one of an elderly man, circa 55 years of age, dressed formally in a business suit, carrying a cane or umbrella and most probably wearing a top hat. Think Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Ford and even the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet.
But times are changing. The face of the billionaire has changed and so has the image. The average billionaire is in his 30s and his daily office is jeans, tee shirt and trainers. Think of IT entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergei Brin and Mark Zuckerberg.
The business frontier has changed drastically. Wealth is no longer to be drilled and dug for over time. These days, wealth is a click or a code away.
The average billionaire is a college drop out with no work experience. His work tools are his imagination and ability to solve 21st century problems. Innovation is the name of the game and technology and the internet have become the enablers and play ground of the 21st century billionaire.
A few years back, Forbes magazine crowned Ashish Thakkar, who is just 30, Africa’s youngest billionaire. Thakkar, who has strong Indian roots, holds British nationality and lives in the UAE, is the founder and visioner behind the Mara Group of Companies which, at the last count, employs over 5,000 people across 18 African countries.
Thakkar started out in 1996 in Uganda where he sold computers to his classmates, friends and even his school. In time, like many IT entrepreneurs, he dropped out of school, though as he says, “After some intense convincing, my parents agreed to let me start my own business on the condition that I would go back to school if it didn’t work out.”
Well, it did work out and Thakkar soon put the small fortune he made from selling computers into a conglomerate that now includes real estate, hospitality and infrastructure.
Come June 20 and 21, Thakkar will deliver the keynote speech at this year’s African CEO roundtable on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility at Tinapa, Nigeria, an annual conference that is charting a new path for a mutually beneficial synergy between the private and public sectors.
Speaking on the choice of Thakkar as keynote speakers, Ini Onuk, Lead Consultant of Thistle Praxis, convener of the roundatable, said, “ Ashish Thakkar has one of the fastest growing businesses in Africa. The Mara group is known as one of the businesses that have unleashed a lot of growth, he has the Mara Foundation pushing up serious entreprenuership among young people.
“He has a packaging company which has grown, within two years, into a multi-billion Naira business. He has an IT business which has grown in leaps and bounds. He is starting up a sugar manucfacturing company in Africa. He is also starting up a glass company.“
Thakkar is focused on doing going things the amazing fortune he has amassed. To make this happen, he launched the Mara Foundation, the non-profit arm of his conglomerate, which, according to him, “ focuses on entrepreneurship and education”. The group places equal emphasis on internal growth and structure and on strategic partnerships with global experts in various fields.
Fully committed to see Africa grow educationally, economically and socially Thakkar’s Mara Foundation is a multi-disciplinary foundation that identifies, targets, supports and helps incubate young entrepreneurs providing not just capital but mentorship and space for growth.
Thakkar, like the great billionaire philanthropists before him, believes in giving back and not in an adhoc way but in a sustainable, measurable and incremental way.
“I believe it is imperative for businesses to give back to their communities. I have taken my greatest lessons in business and created the Mara Foundation to help early stage entrepreneurs. We are very proud of the work we do through the Foundation which is helping to tackle problems in education and providing the much needed support to young entrepreneurs at the start of their journey.
“Mara Foundation provides three different types of support. The first is the Entrepreneur Launchpad, a business mentorship program which connects emerging entrepreneurs with top business leaders who have volunteered to provide mentorship for six months. This project has mentored around 120 small businesses in East Africa so far”, he said.
“The second is Mara Launchpad, the Base for Growing Businesses, an innovation and enterprise center for young businesses, where entrepreneurs pay an affordable fee to access a professional office space and a community of like-minded individuals. This provides visibility and credibility which enables them to grow. The third element is the Mara Launch Uganda Fund, which offers venture capital to start-ups and growth-stage companies in Uganda to start with. Our vision is to copy and paste these initiatives in other African countries too.”
As Thakkar arrives Nigeria, Ini Onuk wishes that CEOs would come to hear him speak and share his views which she believes would be beneficial because “Ashish, though quite young, has been so innovative“. She adds: “He is globally recognized as a trasformational leader. Forbes has named him Africa’s youngest billionaire; the World Economic Forum named him one of the world’s global leaders. He is a thinker and he has shown example of how you can be young and be a leader and how you can drive an innovative business with sustainability in mind.
Source: Vanguard Ngr